From the moment it became clear that Donald Trump had captured the Presidency, one thing was certain; that the House of Representatives would be ground-zero for Democratic regrouping. With the Senate hosting contests featuring a number of Democrats in hard red states and the House Republican membership consisting of 24 districts that voted for Hillary Clinton, it wasn’t hard to figure which was more achievable. Like any cycle, however, there were ebbs and flows. While the party always remained favorites to win control, there were various signs at some points in the cycle that the gavel would hover on the edge, the most recent being the beginning of October when the Republican base seemed to be galvanized following the Brett Kavanaugh nomination. But if holding their losses seemed to be a possibility for Republicans, they has tumbled in recent weeks faster than Alice in Wonderland into the rabbit hole. The violence and political threats throughout the country and more aptly, the response to it, has proven just the latest canary-in-the coalmine and has both ginned-up and unsettled suburbia simultaneously at the least opportune time. More over, the resistance and young have been energized like never before.
Thus, Republicans are not just facing being hit by a wave but buried by an avalanche as their losses seem likely to approach or even exceed 40 (for historical purposes, the famous post-Nixon class of 1974 produced 75 new Democratic “Watergate Babies,” and resulted in 42 fewer Republicans). The following illustrates how far the party has fallen. I have made my traditional calls in most of the districts that are viewed as remotely competitive, though this time, in an absolute first for me, I have refrained doing so for roughly half-a-dozen seats. It will not change the fact that Democrats are going to have a pretty hefty majority but, because every one of these seats are GOP held and, with one or two exceptions, were all expected to be easy holds for the party until recently, even just picking off one or two will be icing on the cake for Democrats.
First for the dynamics. This column does not allow me to go into the intricacies of every contested race so, let me get the obvious out of the way.
Strategists have agreed that the open New Jersey-2 (LoBiondo)and Pennsylvania-5 (Meehan) being vacated were automatic Democratic pickups even as the cycle was getting underway with Pennsylvania-6 (Costello) close behind.
Since then, most in the GOP have conceded at least a couple of other seats: Arizona-2 (Open, McSally), California-49 (Open, Issa), Colorado-6 (Coffman), Kansas-3 (Yoder), Michigan-11 (Open, Trott), Minnesota-2 (Lewis), Minnesota-3 (Paulsen), New Jersey-11 (Open, Frelinghuysen), and Pennsylvania-7 (Open, Dent). Also, despite claims that Iowa-1, where Rod Blum had been given up for dead but Republicans insist reports of his death were premature, the betting is his last days are near as well. The same is true of Virginia-10 where, to quote the Dionne Warwick song, “Neither one of us wants to be the first to say goodbye.” Lastly, Republicans have triaged Kevin Rothfuss in his matchup with Democratic incumbent Conor Lamb in the new Pennsylvania-17 but that is balanced out by the fact that the seat Lamb is vacating, Pennsylvania-14, to flip to Republicans. Besides that seat, the only Democratic held district that the party is prepared to lose is Minnesota-8, the Iron Range district that the last Watergate Baby, Rick Nolan, is leaving behind.
That means the Democrats are already pretty much automatically at fourteen seats, nine short of what they need for a majority.
In addition, many in both parties now believe Donna Shalala has stopped the hemorrhaging from an unenthused base and a lax campaign style to flip the seat Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is vacating. (+15)
There are other ominous winds for Republicans. Democrats, deep in the minority, have shored up their own few vulnerable seats – a duo in Nevada and one in New Hampshire, and now only have one remaining worry: a second seat in Minnesota that covers the Rochester-Mankato area. But signs suggest that Democrat Tim Feehan is increasingly positioned to hold off State Senator Jim Hagedorn, who is mounting his third bid for the seat. He will also be helped by the fact that the current incumbent, Tim Walz, is a sure-bet to become the Gopher State’s next governor. Republicans on the other hand are seeing the battlefield extend into the very territory deep in the heart of their base that should keep them from being distracted, including open seats such as Florida-15, New Mexico-2 and Virginia-5.
A few highlights from some of the plethora of other races that will determine whether Democrats huff and puff or catapult into the majority.
Orange County, California has been the most intriguing for Democrats this cycle, not only because the county is hosting four tight Congressional races but because it has traditionally been a tough nut to crack (Hillary Clinton was the first presidential candidate since FDR to carry it). One of those seats up for grabs is the Issa seat which has already been established to be falling into the Democratic column. Others are hard to predict. For much of the year, it was assumed that Dana Rohrabacher, a thirty-year incumbent who boasts of a relationship with Vladimir Putin, and whose vocal social conservatism, while not new in the least, is beginning to rub folks the wrong way. By contrast, California-45 was initially viewed as the easiest Republican hold of the quartet to hold with incumbent Mimi Walters being scandal-free and, until recently, popular in the area. But the trend has worked against her to the point that she definitely trails challenger Katie Porter, though it’s not known how much at this point (Republicans at one point were threatening to cut her off if she didn’t recover). California-39, which Ed Royce is vacating, may be most unpredictable. Clinton also carried that district and mega-lottery winner Gil Cisneros emerged from a cacophonous Democratic field to face Yi-Ying Kim.
Over in LA County, two-term Republican Steve Knight has proven surprisingly resilient against one of the Democrats prized recruits, Katie Hill, a development that seems like a repeat episode of last cycle when many thought Knight would lose. But his district might prove the epicenter of getting their base out and Hill will win.
In Virginia-7, Dave Brat could easily pass for Ted Cruz’s mini-me. A member of the Freedom Caucus, he is not particularly beloved among his House colleagues and his personality couldn’t set a continent on fire, much less the word. His constituent relations have been ho-hum as well. In a neutral year, that might matter little in a Republican district but, in a year like this against a dynamic candidate, Abigail Spainberger, it’s a death knell (remember, this part of Virginia roared toward Democratic legislative candidates last year). Brat will lose.
Michigan-8 is an example of the roller coasters of a hard cycle. Bishop’ s district was made more Republican enough in the last round of redistricting that it should have insulated him from a serious challenge but prosecutor Elissa Slotkin has been giving him such a run for his money – literally. Slotkin has outraised Bishop to the point that he was initially triaged by fellow Republicans. The party has recently come back to his aid but his campaign was jarred by publicity surrounding a pro-Bishop Super Pac ad using an obvious Slotkin’s misspeak on the trail.” Slotkin had stated the necessity of always putting “party before country” before immediately realizing her mistake and correcting it. But the pro-Bishop ad conveniently left that part out. The ad aside, the Michigan Republican Party has utterly collapsed to the point that it has eradicated Slotkin’s geographic disadvantages (particularly in Northern Oakland and Livingston Counties). And early voting is going through the roof and that will help propel Slotkin to a win.
In Southern New Jersey, Andy Kim did not initially strike many as super-intimidating when he announced his intention to take on second term Republican Tom MacArthur. That’s sure not the case anymore. Aside from being a fundraising juggernaut, Kim has made inroads in blood-red Ocean County while holding his own in more mixed-Burlington. MacArthur has taken heat not only for being the only member of the Jersey delegation to back the Obamacare repeal (even sponsoring key provisions), but also to support the Trump tax plan which many in the east coast – due to it’s state and local deductions.
In Utah, Mia Love, as a rare African-American GOP female, was once seen as a potential star for the GOP but, she now faces a formidable challenger in Salt Lake City Mayor Ben McAdams. It took a long time for this one to gain traction but McAdams has now pulled ahead and, that is where he’ll remain when all the votes are counted.
Even seats drawn by Republicans at the beginning of the decade to be safe will find the environment to hostile to bear. In Texas, John Culberson of Houston and Pete Sessions of Dallas, were facing the races of their lives all year. Hillary Clinton carried both districts by a hair and Republicans have healthy down-ballot strength, which might have been enough for both men to keep their seats. But the enthusiasm for Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke has meant zeal among Democrats that has put turnout in overdrive. Two Atlanta area incumbents conversely were not on the knife’s edge all year and both stayed Republican at the Presidential level, though by sharply reduced margins than in the past. But the cannonball barreling toward them is the Stacey Abrams gubernatorial boomlet which will play here regardless of how she does statewide. As a result, those races are late toss-ups and pick’ems for this column.
Maine-2 poses a test for Democrats as they try to unseat an incumbent in a rural district that went for Barack Obama, but also Donald Trump. Bruce Poliquin has held the seat for two terms but Democrats think they’ve found the right formula for beating him: an Iraq/Afghanistan veteran who currently serves in the Maine legislature. Pre-existing conditions has been a big concern here and Poliquin has taken fire for backing the Obamacare repeal.
Similarly, in a heavily Cuban-American district in Southern Florida, Republican Carlos Curbelo has been in a dogfight with Debbie Muscarel-Powell all year and it was anyone’s guess which way the race might go. But I suspect the president’s ruminations about eliminating birthright citizenship will open the dam here, and that will be enough to drown Curbelo.
Pennsylvania-1 has had enormous national visibility not just because it typifies the suburban, Clinton carried GOP held district but because the Democratic candidate, philanthropist Scott Wallace, is the grandson of former Vice-President Henry Wallace. His opponent is freshman Brian Fitzpatrick, who won the seat in 2016 from his brother Mike who retired .Fitzpatrick is one of the chamber’s most centrist Republicans while Wallace has been thrust into serious defense over long-ago statements that were highly viewed as anti-Israel (Bucks County has a sizable Jewish population). The race has been tight and days ago, I would have called it in favor of the incumbent. But the backlash over Trump’s rhetoric has ricocheted suburbia with fury and that will probably Wallace over the top. One interesting nugget. Mike Fitzpatrick was also unseated after one term but came back four years later. Will Brian follow?
In Washington State, Dino Rossi picks the worst cycles to run for office. He came within 129 votes of becoming the state’s governor following a protracted recount in 2004, then opted for a rematch four years later. But 2008 was Obama’s year and Rossi lost by an even bigger margin. His 2010 challenge to Senator Patty Murray in a Republican year at least did not go against the grain pendulum wise but Rossi still lost. This cycle, his bid for the open Washington-8 was an almost guaranteed win until the bottom fell out for the party. Thus, Rossi appears consigned to lose to a new and politically rusty opponent. The news is not all bad for Rossi, however. Another loss means Rossi will not be going to the other Washington, a place he once called a “human cesspool.” Incidentally, the same fate is likely to hit someone who already is in the other Washington, Jamie Hererra-Beutler of the state’s GOP leaning Third district. Her former boss, however, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, will narrowly pull it out/
The uproar has impacted even senior members. The dean of the House, Don Young, is suddenly in for the race of his life (as he is every five cycles or so). He will scrape by but others, such as Fred Upton, a 32-year incumbent and former chair of the Commerce Committee won’t be so lucky and he’ll emulate Iowa’s Jim Leach who was literally stunned on Election Day (though it has become increasingly clear this past month that Upton wouldn’t skate as he has in the past). Even Chris Smith of New Jersey and Peter King of New York, are running radio ads, a first in a long, long time. Smith, the last of two surviving “Reagan Robots” elected in 1980, is on par to take his lowest margin since his 53% in his first re-election in 1982. King, elected in 1992 from very fertile Republican turf, has seen his district become more Democratic. Only the fact that he is Peter King – a Congressman who is widely respected by his colleagues and in Congress, will allow him to scrape. But in an illustration of the roof caving in, his two-term colleague, Lee Zeldin, will not be so lucky. Expect the Suffolk County Republican to fall by a nose to a surprise primary winner whom many considered second-tier.
That more than anything summarizes the nature of the year.
My Predictions of the Outcome of The Competitive House races For 2018
Due to the presence of third party contenders, percentages will not add up to 100%
Alaska-At Large (Don Young* (R) 52% Alyse Galvin (D) 48%); Arizona-6 David Schweikert* (R) 51% Anita Malik (D) 49%); Arizona-8 Debbie Lesko* (R) 53% Hiral Tipernini (D) 47%; California-1 Doug LaMalfa* (R) 51% Audrey Denney (D) 49%); California-4 Tom McClintock* (R) 52% Jessica Morse (D) 48%; California-10 Josh Harder (D) 51% Jeff Denham* (R) 49%; California-21 David Valadao* (R) 54% T.J. Cox (D) 46%; California-22 Devin Nunez* (R) 54% Andrew Janz (D)46%; California-25 Katie Hill (D) 51% Steve Knight* (R) 49%; California-39 Gil Cisneros (D) 52% Young Kim (R) 48%; California-45 Katie Porter (D) 52% Mimi Walters* (R) 48%; California-48 Pick’em; California-49 Mike Levin (D) 55% Diane Harkey 45%; Colorado-3 Scott Tipton* (R) 50% Diane Mitsch Bush (D) 47%; Colorado-6 Jason Crow (D) 55% Mike Coffman* (R) 42%; Florida-6 Mike Waltz (R) 52% Nancy Soderberg (D) 48%; Florida-15 Ross Spano (R) 52% Kristen Carlson (D) 48%; Florida-18 Pick’em; Florida-25 Pick’em; Florida-26 Debbie Mucarsel Powell (D) 52% Carlos Curbelo* (R) 48%; Florida-27 Donna Shalala (D) 53% Maria Elvira Salazar (R) 45%; Georgia-6 Karen Handel* (R) 50.4% Lucy McBath (D) 49.6%; Georgia-7 Pick ’em; Illinois-6 Sean Casten (D) 51% Peter Roskam*(R) 48%; Illinois-12 Mike Bost* (R) 51% Brendan Kelly (D) 46%; Illinois-13 Betsy Londrigan Davis (D) 49% Rodney Davis* (R) 49%; Illinois-14 Lauren Underwood (D) 51% Randy Hultgren* (R) 49%; Iowa-1 Abby Finkenauer 53% Rod Blum* (R) 44%; Iowa-3 Cindy Axne (D) 48% David Young* 48%; Iowa-4 Pick ’em; Kansas-2 Paul Davis (D) 52% Stan Watkins (R) 45%; Kansas-3 Sharice Davids (D) 54% Kevin Yoder* (R) 44%; Kentucky-6 Andy Barr* (R) 50% Amy McGrath (D) 48%; Maine-2 Jared Golden (D) 48% Bruce Poliquin* (R) 45%; Michigan-1 Jack Bergman* (R) 51% Matt Morgan (D) 49%; (D) Michigan-2 Bill Huizenga* (R) 50% Rob Davidson (D) 48% Michigan-3 Cathy Albro (D) 50% Justin Amash* (R) 47%; Michigan-6 Matt Longjohn (D) 49% Fred Upton* (R) 47%; Michigan-7 Tim Walberg* (R) 53% Gretchen Driscoll (D) 47%; Michigan-8 Elissa Slotkin (D) 50% Mike Bishop*(R) 46%; Michigan-11 Haley Stevens (D) 53% Lena Epstein (R) 43%; Minnesota-1 Dan Feehan (D) 53% Jim Hagedorn (R) 47%; Minnesota-2 Angie Craig (D) 54% Jason Lewis* (R) 46%; Minnesota-3 Dean Phillips (D) 54% Eric Paulsen* (R) 46%; Minnesota-7 Collin Peterson* (D) 55% Doug Hughes 45%; Minnesota-8 Pete Stauber (R) 49% Joe Radinovich (D) 44%; Montana-At Large Kathleen Williams (D) 48% Greg Gianforte* (R) 46%; Nebraska-2 Don Bacon* (R) 52% Kara Eastman (D) 48%; Nevada-3 Susie Lee (D) 50% Danny Tarkanian (R) 44% Nevada-4 Steve Horsford (D) 53% Crescent Hardy (R) 42%; New Hampshire-1 Chris Pappas (D) 55% Eddie Edwards (R) 42%; New Jersey-3 Andy Kim (D) Tom MacArthur* (R); New Jersey-7 Tom Malinowski 51% Leonard Lance* 46%; New Jersey-11 Mikie Sherrill (D) Jay Webber (R) 56% Jay Webber (R) 42%; New Mexico-2 Xochitil Torres-Small (D) 51% Yvette Herrell (R) 49%; New York-1 Perry Gershon (D) 49% Lee Zeldin* (R) 48%; New York-2 Peter King* (R)53% Liuba Gretchen Shirley (D) 47%; New York-19 Antonio Delgado (D) 51% John Faso* (R) 46%; New York-22 Anthony Brindisi (D) 52% Claudia Tenney* (R) 48%; New York-23 Tom Reed* (R) Tracy Mitrano (D) 48%; New York-24 John Katko* (R) 50.1% Dana Balter (D) 49.9%; New York-27 Chris Collins* (R) 49% Nate McMurray (D) 48%; North Carolina-2 George Holding* (R) 51% Linda Coleman (D) 47%; North Carolina-9 Dan McCready (D) 49% Mark Harris (R) 47%; North Carolina-13 Ted Budd* (R) 50% Kathy Manning (D) 47%; Ohio-1 Steve Chabot* (R) 51% Aftab Pureval (D) 46%; Ohio-12 Pick’em; Ohio-14 Pick ’em; Oklahoma-5 Steve Russell* (R) 53% Kendra Horn (D) 47%; Pennsylvania-1 Scott Wallace (D) 50% Brian Fitzpatrick* R) 47%; Pennsylvania-8 Matt Cartwright (D) 56% John Chrin (R) 44%; Pennsylvania-10 Scott Perry* 50% George Scott (D) 50%; Pennsylvania-11 Lloyd Smucker* (R) 55% Jess King (D) 45%; Pennsylvania-16 Pick’em; Pennsylvania-17 Conor Lamb* (D) 57% Keith Rothfuss* (R) 43%; South Carolina-1 Katie Arrington (R) 51% Joe Cunningham (D) 49%; Texas-2 Dan Crenshaw (R) 51% Todd Litton (D) 46%; Texas-6 Ron Wright (R) 53% Jana Lynn Sanchez (D) 45% <strong>Texas-7 Fletcher (D) 50.4 John Culberson* (R) 49.6%); Texas-21 Chip Roy* (D) 50% Joseph Kopser (D) 48%; Texas-22 Pete Olson* (R) 51% Sri Preston Kulkarni (D) 47%; Texas-23 Will Hurd* (R) 52% Gina Ortiz Jones (D) 46%; Texas-24 Kenny Marchant* (R) 52% Jan McDowell (D) 44%; Texas-31 John Carter* (R)52% M.J. Hegar (D) 46%; Texas-32 Colin Allred (D) 50% Pete Sessions* (R) 48%; Utah-4 Ben McAdams (D) 53% Mia Love* (R) 44%; Virginia-2 Elaine Luria 50.4 (R) Scott Taylor* (D) 49.6%; Virginia-5 Pick’em; Virginia-7 Abigail Spanberger (D) 50% Dave Brat* (R) 47%; Virginia-10</strong> Jennifer Wexton (D) 56% Barbara Comstock* (R) 44%; Washington-3 Carolyn Long (D) 50.4% Jamie Hererra-Beutler* (R) 49.7%; Washington-5 Cathy McMorris-Rodgers* (R) 51% Lisa Brown (D) 49%; Washington-8 Kim Schrier (D) 54% Dino Rossi (R); Wisconsin-6 Glen Grothman* (R) 52% Dan Kohl (D) 48%; Wisconsin-7 Sean Duffy (R) 50% Margaret Engebretsen (D) 46%;